April 15th, 2009

Captive Dreams

Pithy Quote Day

Some Aphorisms and Quotations

For some reason I have been collecting sentences that seem to me at the time to capture something interesting.  Chesterton may seem over-represented, but that is only because he was so good at being quotable.


A good aphorism is the tip of an iceberg of thought. One gets the point but is spared the proof.
-- Bill Vallicelli

We are far too seldom reminded that just as church-going is not religion, so reading and writing are not knowledge, and voting is not self-government.
-- G.K.Chesterton, "The Thing"

I am far less afraid of forms of power than I am of concentration of power. Kings whose scope of power is limited are less frightening than elected legislatures with no limits on what they can do.
-- Jerry Pournelle

I know that today many seek their way gropingly and don't know in whom to trust. To them I say: believe those who are seeking the truth; doubt those who find it
-- André Gide

We must refrain from every dispute in which the victory counts for more than what one wins by it. If the defeat of our enemy is also the defeat of the truth, it is our defeat too.
-- Louis Lavelle, The Dilemma of Narcissus

[B]ecause we watch Paris Hilton on Hi Def, we can talk down to the medievals who invented the university.
-- Mark Shea

We live in an age in which we know precisely what recycle bin our newsprint and soda bottles belong. But we have no idea what a human being is, what it’s supposed to do, or who or what it is permissible to sleep with. So, this is the lesson of our time: the “good” man is the one who treats his garbage with greater care than his own soul.
-- Francis Beckwith

When you tell people what they want to hear, you don't have to be too careful about premises, facts, and conclusions.
-- Angelo M. Codevilla

I read a rational account of why an (obvious) evil is evil, and thought “when you get to the point of having to having to reason about this, you’re doomed."
-- James Chastek

The senses we have arose by chance, but it is stupid to think that this means they attain objects by chance. Corkscrews formed by chance would open bottles just as well as any other.
-- James Chastek

A fellow saw someone push an old lady into the way of an oncoming bus and someone else who pushed an old lady out of the way of an oncoming bus. “What’s the difference?” he said. “They both push old ladies around.”
-- Wm F. Buckley

I consume energy sources and an engine consumes them too, but the engine doesn’t do so for its own sake -- that’s why it has a crankshaft.
-- James Chastek

Relations with extroverts should be left on the superficial level. Never seek a deep relation with a person who is surface all the way down.
-- The Maverick Philosopher

"Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them."
-- Sam Harris

That which does not kill me has made a grave tactical error.
-- Jerry Pournelle

Predict catastrophe no sooner than five years hence but no later than 10 years away, soon enough to terrify but distant enough that people will forget if you are wrong.
-- Easterbrook's Law of Doomsaying

Modern man is mesmerized by words and numbers. He believes the latter are especially scientific, but he is similarly awed by jargon, whether or not it is correctly applied, or indeed, has any meaning.
-- David Warren

Behind the gods, who are merely despotic, sit the fates, who are deadly. 
-- Chesterton, Orthodoxy

One way to retain peace of mind is by refraining from giving others a piece of one's mind.
-- The Maverick Philosopher

Great leaders are thought of as such only after they've demonstrably pointed their constituents in the right direction. After all, when the lemming hordes jump off the cliff and into the sea, does it matter who the head lemming was, or even that there was a head lemming at all?
-- Mark Costello

"Why is present government policy... now determined by people who would have serious trouble managing a whelk stall?"
-- Laurie Taylor

The best way to conceive of imagination is as a trap or a lure for intellect.  The person tries to position an image in just the right place to draw out and catch the light of the intellect.
-- James Chastek

Creation should be thought of, not according to the model of the craftsman who makes all sorts of objects, but rather in the manner that thought is creative. 
-- Benedict XVI

To be a prop in someone else’s fantasy is not a pleasant experience, especially when this someone else is trying to kill you.
-- Lee Harris

It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.
-- G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

That's a no-brainer. Of course it's a violation of international law, that's why it's a covert action. The guy is a terrorist. Go grab his ass.
-- VP Al Gore in cabinet discussion of "extraordinary rendition"

"When you break the big rules, you don’t get freedom. You get the little rules."
-- G.K.Chesterton

The old religious authorities, at least, defined a heresy before they condemned it, and read a book before they burned it.
-- G.K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News, May 13, 1911

"Saying that life on earth came from another planet is like saying that a ghost in a graveyard must have come from some other graveyard. It doesn’t explain anything."
-- G.K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News, May 3, 1924

"It may come as a surprise to you, Mr. Darrow, and perhaps to all of you in the audience, but I agree entirely with everything you have said."
-- G.K. Chesterton, Debate with Clarence Darrow, Mecca Temple, NYC, Jan 1931

And, from the inimitable Underground Grammarian of yore: 

It's fun, and safe, to speculate on the origins of language. What makes it fun is obvious, but what makes it safe is that no dreary scholar will ever come along with the facts to prove what a fool you've been.
-- The Underground Grammarian

The word "snake" makes you feel better, because it opens the gates for many other words. ... You are in another world, the world where snakes are made of discourse, not blood and bones and teeth.
-- The Underground Grammarian

In the company of an anaconda, any forest animal is afraid, just like any Jiukiukwe. The difference, though, is that the Jiukiukwe have a language so that they don't have to wait to be afraid until they actually find themselves in the company of the anaconda. They can be afraid ahead of time. In language they remember the anaconda of the past and take thought for the anaconda of the future.
-- The Underground Grammarian

A collection of names for things in the world, however large, does not make a language. A language is only incidentally in the business of naming things.
-- The Underground Grammarian